12/12/2006: "Public Hearing Today On New Fees: Storm water"
The County Council will hold a public hearing today, Tuesday, December 12, 2006 at 2:30 p.m. to consider amending the SJ C Storm Water Utility ordinance by passing a new ordinance that will include a new base "service charge" of $46.20. For some property owners the bill will be greater than the base service charge, depending on the amount of impervious surface, and the "class of property" they own. For those properties that have not been touched by the hand of man, they may be able to avoid the new charge.
The collected money will be used to fund the new Storm Water Utility the County Council has created. As set out in the ordinance, the "utility is authorized to exercise all lawful powers necessary and appropriate to planning, designing, establishing, acquiring, developing, financing, constructing, operating, managing, improving, maintaining, controlling and requesting stormwater facilities".
For those who own land that has been developed -and assuming the ordinance is passed- the new charge will show up on property tax bills. The money collected will be used to off-set some of the costs of storm water runoff on county roads, and to also develop storm water systems for Eastsound and other Urban Growth Areas (UGA) in San Juan County.
According to Jon Shannon, Director of PW (Public Works), the County has been falling behind on stormwater projects, and the proposed new funding source will help large projects in such areas as Eastsound and on Lopez. While individual land and home owners will still be responsible for paying for their own stormwater costs, such as paying for necessary plans, permits and improvements now required by storm water regulations, they will also have to put some money in the public pot that will be used by the County for stormwater projects.
In response to a question from the Island Guardian, Mr. Shannon stated that once the backlog of stormwater projects has been completed, it is possible that in the future the base rate may be reduced,
The proposed amendment that will be the subject of the hearing is the result of a committee appointed by the County Council to come up with a funding source for the program, and after a number of meetings, the group recommended to Public Works that a system of fees based on the square footage of impervious surface be used as a basis for computing charges. The base unit is to be called an "Equivalent Service Unit (ESU), and is defined as 4,400 square feet of impervious surface area; examples of such would be a roof, driveway, and the like.
If land is in an "undeveloped" state, which in the context of the proposed ordinance means "property which has not been altered by grading or filling of the ground surface, or by construction of any improvement or other impervious surface area which affected the hydraulic properties of the parcel", then the charge would not apply.
To what extent may one grade or fill their property without "affecting the hydraulic properties" -which the ordinance seems to assume means the creating of "impervious" surfaces on the land- remains an open question that the property owner "shall have the burden of proving" in order to qualify for a "service charge adjustment".
The hearing will be held in the Council meeting room in the court house.